We sat down with Joint Managing Director, Jonathan Levy to discuss his background, his role within the company and what makes him tick.
Name / Role- Jonathan Levy, Joint Managing Director.
What’s your background? Well, I started my career in finance, I did 5 years in Colgate Palmolive and 10 years at Black & Decker. Each business had a strong Branding and Marketing emphasis. I then moved from Finance into Operations Management at B&D. As B&D was progressively moving to far Eastern sourcing, I left and joined the Swedish company Esselte doing Global Logistics across the group based in their London head office. Within the Esselte empire they had small businesses concentrating on small stationery products, of which BLL was one. Head office asked me if I wanted to be MD of BLL and I said yes straight away. This was 1989 and I ran it as part of Esselte for ten years, by which time Esselte had decided custom made products was not their core business so they disposed of those sorts of companies. It gave us the opportunity to buy BLL. We set it up to be wholly owned by the employees. The reason being is that I’m not a fan of management buyouts. I wanted to set something up that would last and would be structured in a way that would allow employees to have ownership but decision making would still be reserved, ultimately for management. We achieved this by having voting shares in the employee share ownership trust, ESOT. Our trustees are independent of management and they have ultimate control of the business and can sack any of the directors. Back in 2000, we decided to have 2 employees come to the board meetings. Their role is to put forward the interests of employees and make sure they are considered by the board when it comes to decision making. Employee shares hold the value of the business. If the business is sold the value sits in employee shares.
When did you decide to start the company? Well I didn’t start the company, it has been running since 1909, but I become involved in 1989. And the company has been independently owned since December 1999.
What do you like the most about the team? That we do work as a team. We really do trust each other. There’s only one agenda, and that is what do we have to do to make the business work. No one can put personal interests above that of the business.
What is your current state of mind? Positive. Major changes have come out of the reduced PVC production. We are rebuilding the business based on paper based products. Apart from the core business there is initiatives such as the lawyer binders moving away from PVC, plus the marketing of Memory Keeper. We know what we want to do and are doing it.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Modesty.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Strategic. Checks and balances. Successful.
Which talent would you most like to have? Being a really good leader.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or the project that you feel most proud of? BLL has gone through a lot of changes. We used to have a high cost base. Stationery products were bought in high volumes. As the world evolves less of these products are required. I met a person from a leadership trust program and I was feeling a bit down about the current state of the business and the industry and the man said; the business should have died years ago but it’s kept alive by you and your people’s sheer forces of will. And it’s that energy and culture that we still have today that gets us through the tough times and helps us develop and grow to ensure we still have a long future.
Your current favourites: Music (band/artist): Classical. Mahler’s second symphony.
Book: One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey